Comedy is reduced to slapstick in Hindi cinema. Paresh Rawal, soon to be seen in "Malamaal", endeavours to be different.
It is not the role that I choose; rather it is the role that chooses me
Comedy is half intelligence, half execution. It is not necessary to make faces to look comic, neither one needs to deliver below the belt dialogues to tickle that funny bone. In the early 1980s, Hindi cinema was undergoing a crunch of comedians. Comedians in 1950s, 60s and 70s - Johnny Walker, Mehmood, Rajendra Nath and Jagdeep - were no longer considered `main' comedians because of the age factor. So they started playing small character roles. Then the presence of Deven Verma was registered as a whiff of fresh air. Though he was working as a comedian in small roles since early `60s, in films like "Angoor", "Ladies' Tailor", "Jhooti" etc, he established himself as a comedian who ushered in an era of neat and clean comedy that didn't require unpleasant dialogues. Or much melodrama, either. Today, the space for comedians is eaten up by the heroes trying their hand at raising a few laughs. Guys like Akshay Kumar and Sanjay Dutt, not to forget Salman Khan, have made a career out of it. Now except Paresh Rawal, no other so-called comedian carries this legacy in the Hindi film industry. Most, be it Johnny Lever, villain-turned comedian Shakti Kapoor, or Govinda who is more associated with comedy than serious films, have resorted to lewd actions, offensive gesticulations, and below-the-belt dialogues to register themselves as comedians. Remember Kapoor in the 1980s' films? Or Govinda as his companion?But Rawal, a discovery of Javed Akhtar, has consciously kept himself away from that category. From his debut in "Arjun" to "Hathyar" to "Mr. and Mrs. Khiladi", "Hera Pheri" to "Hulchul", "Ye Tera Ghar Ye Mera Ghar", to the more recent "Garam Masala", Rawal continues to keep his reputation as a clean comedian. No falling over bananas, no lewd dialogues, no drawer strings. Just a man who raises a laugh with his deadpan style. Adding to the list is his latest film "Malamaal" by Priyadarshan ready for release this month.
No to sleaze
Admits Rawal, "I chose to do comedy roles that I wouldn't feel ashamed of when I see them with my family. Not that I wasn't offered such roles. Because of my firm stand, now, it is not the role that I choose, rather it is the role that chooses me."In this film, Rawal shares screen space with stalwart comedian Asrani, emerging comedian Rajpal Yadav, ever-lewd Shakti Kapoor and a sensitive, sensible Om Puri. Like many other films Rawal again is the chosen one to dominate all. In this almost all-men film that has Riteish Deshmukh and Rimi Sen as a pair, he plays Leela Ram, a villager who has a great hold on others in his village because "he knows some English... expressions like thank you, that's okay, sorry etc," as Rawal puts it, slipping into a smile. Subtly making one realise that he wouldn't like to be complimented for sharing screen space with Asrani, Johnny Lever or Shakti Kapoor, he speaks out, "Why only them? I share screen space with Om Puri which is a great joy. We come from the same school of thought and hence, we compliment each other so well. Something that you will find so obvious in the film." The film, he reveals, warns you not to take poor villagers for granted. Don't think that because they do not know the Queen's language, they don't understand anything or anybody can sell them a dummy. "The film tries to say that villagers are not innocent. They are very smart. Woh bade siyane hain, so you can't fool them," says Rawal adding that he would like to categorise the film as a comic thriller. "It is not only because it keeps you laughing scene after scene but also keeps your curiosity alive by `ab kya hoga, kisko maal milega' type questions," he states. The film unfolds itself through an incident of a lottery result being received by a poor villager, who on hearing that he has won money worth crores of rupees in lottery, dies of a heart attack. "How then, the whole village tries to make a claim to his money in their own way, and how they would do anything for the money is what the film is all about," Rawal says. In his role of Leela Ram, Rawal, who is one of the desperate claimants, "tries to throw his weight around because he knows some English and can manage to speak to people announcing the lottery results", he says. "As always, in a Priyadarshan film, you don't have to act funny as the situations themselves are funny. So it retains an ethos of its own. It was easy for me to execute such a role being in the film industry for such a long time," he adds.The actor admits that it is not easy to make a place for oneself in the film industry among a host of other comedians ready to do anything in the name of comedy. But, "I don't sacrifice my character by going overboard, that way I am me, as you see me in other films. Varna comedy ke naam par yahan bahut kuch bakwaas chal raha hai. There are hardly any filmmakers who are making neat comedy. It gives me a sick feeling. Roles are not well written. There is so much that a film can be made of. Unfortunately, we have not too many good writers. Neither do we have producers and directors to join hands for a daring, good film. I am just an actor, so I can't do anything," adds the man who claims that he never had to struggle in the film industry to get established. "I was a good actor as I had theatre background with me. So I didn't have to struggle to enter the film industry. As soon I was noticed in my very first film, I was flooded with roles. I had to struggle for good roles, not to secure a place," he asserts with pride.
Hailing from a theatre background, Rawal, who refuses to be categorised as a `method actor', also has his own theatre group. "`Shaadi Ya Barbadi', `Khel', `Chaalbaaz', etc are our famous productions that we have to keep repeating on popular demand," he informs. Though he still thinks corporate houses "supporting theatre" is a one-time affair. "Once in a while they sponsor a production, but they actually don't seem to be interested in theatres. The only theatre lovers that I can think of is Prithvi Theatre that Shashi Kapoor and his daughter Sanjana Kapoor are sustaining for so long, that too without any outside support. Hats off to them," he says. For now Rawal is waiting for his next release "China Town" that he expects would give his audiences a peep into "a greater range" than has been revealed yet.